Alameda considering controversial license plate readers for every car that visits island

The Alameda City Council is poised to vote Tuesday night on whether to scan the license plates of every car that enters and leaves the island, a small enclave that touches the larger, and more crime-ridden, city of Oakland.

Police Chief Paul Rolleri wrote to the council that he wants to use this strategy to crack down on car break ins and property crimes, as well as speed up time-consuming police work, noting that this surveillance tool also has privacy advocates crying foul. 

The vote is whether to spend $500,000 on 13 license plate recognition systems, which would be installed on Park Street as well as the Fruitvale and High Street bridges, Doolittle Drive, Harbor bay and Ron Cowan parkways, and the Webster and Posey Tubes. The police department already uses four such license plate readers on their patrol cars.

The devices create records of when vehicles come and go, while immediately flagging stolen and wanted vehicles.  This comes at a time when Livermore-based Vigilant Solutions reportedly entered a contract to provide license plate data to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE. Alameda’s police chief, however, told the San Francisco Chronicle the department would not be sharing the information with ICE.

The city's police department is pushing this strategy as a way to combat a surge in car break-ins. 
these plate readers would create a record of every car that comes and goes -- and they immediately alert police to stolen or wanted cars.

Piedmont started using license plate readers in 2013 and the police chief there told the Chronicle that property crime has dropped by 34 percent.

But Brian Hofer, chair of the Oakland Privacy Advisory Commission, told the Chronicle that he was concerned that Alameda was seeking to put up a virtual border wall.

“They’re scared of Oakland,” Hofer told the Chronicle. “Alameda’s had that history, and that’s playing out. ... That’s not to discount that crime does occur, but there’s definitely this fear of Oakland that’s ridiculously frustrating to me.”

Alameda resident Ronald Abbott told KTVU on Monday morning that he sees both sides of the issue: The readers could indeed be "misused" to keep track of people, he noted, especially if someone is simply "pissed off" with somebody else and wants police to track the whereabouts of that person.

Still, he said, "Alameda is a nice place and I'd like to keep in that way."